The Coffee Shop Shoot (part 1)

Recently I’ve been working with a local business owner on a new photography assignment.

The owners of the Common Grounds coffee shop just opened their business and they needed some images to use on their website, in print advertising and for any future projects. This kind of work is great because it will involve lots of different styles and techniques for me to successfully deliver everything they need.

I’ll be taking exterior shots, interior HDR shots, shots of employees and customers (portraiture), shots of their products (food shots) and even some animal shots (they are service dog friendly). After a week of scouting and planning I began shooting some exterior shots last night. For this blog entry I’ll begin talking about how I use my photography on special assignments for business owners like this coffee shop.

Business assignment photography involves doing specialized “stock” photography that is specific to a clients needs. My role as the photographer is to deliver shots the customer asks for and to dream up shots that the business owner hasn’t thought of. Since the customer isn’t a photographer they don’t always know what can and can’t be done. Usually before I start shooting I meet with the prospective client to discuss all of my different ideas and show some images of previous jobs that help them to understand what I’m talking about. For me this is the beginning of a collaborative process.

This assignment began with some standard exterior shots. It’s super important to be conscious of where you are and make sure that you are being safe. To direct traffic around my gear I use orange safety cones so that people don’t walk into my gear or trip on something I brought. This attention to detail keeps everyone safe and lets the client know that you are being professional. Here’s a production shot of my setup for photographing the patio area of the coffee shop:

You can see that I used a very low angle so that I could emphasize the ground (to help imply “outdoor patio”) and to let me get the outdoor sign into the shot (which was blocked by an umbrella when the camera was at eye height). The low angle let me deliver a shot that was different from anything they thought of for an exterior shot. Here’s what the final image looked like:

For my next shot I wanted to get a closeup shot of the elaborate custom-made sign which is the first thing customers see when coming to the coffee shop. I know that this shot will be important for the website to help customers find their business (which is located a little bit off the road).

Here in Virginia it’s been pretty hot lately. Hot as in 95 degrees hot. The sun has been bright and the clouds have been nonexistent. My exterior shots were going to look crazy hot if I didn’t do things right and I didn’t think that was a good way to attract potential clients to a business that sold hot drinks. My solution was to use a bunch of high speed sync capable flashes to light up the sign and let me drop the exposure of the background.

The high speed sync capability was super important on this shot because dropping the exposure would require a really high shutter speed. For my final shot I was at 1/1000 of a second (at ISO 200 with f 9.5 for an aperture setting). Without high speed sync I was limited to 1/250 of a second for my shutter speed and that wouldn’t be fast enough to darken the background. Being in a downtown area I wanted to include some background “busy-ness” but I wanted it to be muted a bit. Lighting up the sign let me direct a viewers eye to the sign first because it’s the brightest part of the final image.

Here’s a production shot of my setup for getting the shot of the sign:

And here’s the same shot with the flashes highlighted to help you see where I positioned my flashes:

The two remote flashes were both set to 50mm for zoom and 1/1 for power level. I pivoted the flash heads towards the sign with the flash trigger input sensor pointed back at my camera. This helps the high speed sync system to work better outdoors in daylight.

Here’s a closeup of the flashes showing how I pivoted the flash heads:

So what does all this flash work give me? Here’s two shots to help show the differences between taking the shot at normal exposure without flash and using three high speed sync flashes (two remote and one on the camera for a trigger).

Here’s the normal exposure shot:

And here’s the finished shot using the flashes and underexposing the background:

The normal exposure shot looks fine but doesn’t really have a main point of attention. The high speed sync flash shot, on the other hand, clearly highlights the sign without taking the background out of the shot.

Next up I’ll share some interior shots from the coffee shop shoot. My plan is to capture some bracketed shots and merge everything into tone-mapped HDR shots.

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